Ten-pin bowling is set to be reimagined as an engaging commercial entity with the launch of the World Bowling League, according its founder, UAE-based entrepreneur, Adi K. Mishra.
Mishra, the chief executive of League Sports Co., believes that the project is vital for the future of the sport.
“Any sport that claims to have more than 150 million regular participants worldwide has enormous potential,” Mishra said. “Add a sprinkling of celebrity stardust, stunning competition locations and a focus on digital engagement, and League Sports Co. has the recipe to transform the popular pastime of ten-pin bowling into a commercially successful global juggernaut.”
League Sports Co. — under its previous name XTZ Esports Tech — announced last year that it had struck a deal that will run for up to 20 years with the International Bowling Federation to “drive innovation, growth and investment in the sport.”
Primarily, this will involve the launch in 2024 of the new league, which will aim to redefine the appeal of bowling through the WBL pro tour and WBL global calendars for fans and competitors alike, as well as broadcasters, sponsors, agencies and bookmakers.
For Mishra, it is an opportunity to introduce a unifying new structure to a sport that has already benefited from passionate professional, semi-professional and grassroots participants.
The WBL aims to expand the existing base and capture a mass audience through a pro tour and a “premier aspirational product” that has innovation at its core — from the competition locations to the lane designs, balls and scoring, Mishra said.
“At League Sports Co, we have been actively investing time and capital over the last 18 months to bring about much-needed change and updates across all aspects of the sport,” he said.
Held in standard bowling centers under traditional bowling rules, the WBL pro tour will feature a range of tournaments split into three tiers of competition: the challenger series, open series and top-tier masters.
Ranking points will range from 250 for winning a challenger series tournament to 1,000 for triumphing at a masters tournament. The consistency and flow of this calendar is designed to appeal to fans, sponsors and the media by introducing an understandable and consistent narrative to the sport.
“We are already in late-stage negotiations to bring disparate bowling events with significant tradition and history under a single umbrella and introduce the universal bowling performance index for global rankings,” said Mishra, who added that such structures have proved successful for the likes of the ATP Tour in men’s tennis.
The launch of WBL Global, meanwhile, represents what Mishra describes as an “aspirational product that bowling deserves” by elevating the sport to a mainstream stature while integrating cutting-edge technological solutions and elements of strategy such as reverse scoring, restricted throws and franchise teams to build a fan base.
The holding company, LSC, has shown its ability to work alongside athletes and celebrities, having launched a collaborative ownership of a new E1 racing team with Virat Kohli earlier this week.
WBL is similarly in late-stage discussions with high-profile names to become league-level investors.
WBL Global will feature between 12 and 15 events a year in iconic locations in the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, India, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, among other nations, with hopes of expanding the calendar in three to five years’ time. It is anticipated that between eight and 12 franchise teams will compete in season one, with each having a gender-balanced squad of between four and six competitors.
At least two people in each four-person WBL team will be female, helping to underline the equality at the heart of a sport that is age-agnostic and gender-neutral. It is thought that between 40 and 50 percent of bowling participants worldwide are female, according to data from the federation.
“I believe bowling as a sport with powerful stories, played by all age groups and all genders across the world for several decades, is at a pivotal moment, ready for evolution,” Mishra said. “At LSC, we are steering this change by removing barriers and unifying its fragmented ecosystem. We’re implementing tech-enhanced, robust point-based systems, such as the WBL UBPI player’s ranking and the tournament management system.”
The athletes themselves will benefit from financial incentives within the sport. Collective prize money across WBL properties will reach $3 million to $5 million in year one, with hopes of hitting $10 million in year two, depending on growth. With bowling already featuring at international and regional events such as the Pan American Games, Asian Games and the World Games, such investment is likely to provide a platform for further interest in the sport.
For Mishra and LSC, there is no shortage of ambition.
“In five years, I expect the WBL to transform bowling into a leading aspirational product for both athletes and viewers,” he said. “Athletes will be competing for significant prize money, elevating the sport’s commercial appeal and status. Financially, I anticipate the league to be highly profitable, backed by a global audience that spans multiple age groups and demographics. The commercial side will be robust, driven by sponsorships, merchandising and media rights, and we are in preliminary discussions with cities worldwide.”